I had two choices.
A. Going to a warm place in India, continuing the traveling part of this journey, meaning moving from one place to another.
B. Going to a cold place and staying put.
Thinking back and forth, exploring different possibilities, finally I decided to go for plan B.
Now I’m in Rishikesh and it truly is cold. Perhaps it feels colder to me since I’ve been spending a long period of time in warm or even hot weather.
It’s 8 am 18 th January 2018, 9 degrees Celsius with fair winds, and I’m having a coffee at the local chai shop. This is not any chai shop. This is The chai shop. For me it definitely is. It’s cold. Rani is a 38 year old woman running this chai shop with her husband Satish 40. I found them and the shop last year when I first arrived to Rishikesh. It had been a long journey from Kashmir, I was tired and I had had difficulties finding my accommodation in between the many tiny back always of the Laxnan Jhula part of Rishikesh. After checking in I decided for a walk as I always do when arriving to a new place, a good way to get ones bearings sorted. I walked 50-60 metres and saw this place on the right. It was sort pulling me in, it had personality.
I crossed the street, ordered a chai, sat down and more or less never left. For a reason not known to me, this is where I have met interesting people, Ive had great conversations and this is where one can observe life happening every day.
Even though this place can be packed with tourists it is still very local. Most foreign visitors are here for the yoga, the ashrams. The one month I spent in Rishikesh last year tought me that. Then I stayed at a hostel and newcommers often asked me: do you know a good place for Yoga? Next question would be; do you recomend any special place to go? Most people managed to get their days fully booked with different healthy activities, eating healthy western food at the westernised restaurants and caffees paying tripple or six times the price for a coffee or food they would have paid at the local place. My answer to their questions were without exception the same.
No, I don’t know of a good place for yoga. But I can show you a wonderful place for chai and a conversation.
They would all, without exception, get a bit startled and show big eyes not quite comprehending my answer. When one is so focused on the goal the road to there is sometimes missed out on, walked but not seen, seen but not taken the time to feel.
I never traveled when I was young but I remember all the stories friends told me, different times, different ways of traveling. Transporting oneself in a cheap way from one place to another involved hitchhiking or going by train. That also meant slow traveling, moving slow, seeing landscape changing.
Few people travel that way today and you have to bare in mind I have met quite a lot of travellers. There are a few who try to closs Europe to Asia on land, but most travellers are flying not only from one country to another but also within a country because they want to save time.
Saving time. The goal.
Seeing as much as possible. The goal.
At first, when I listened to peoples reasons to why chose flying over land transport I just nodded and agreed. But then I made a calculation, the time difference between an 18 hour train ride in India over flying same distance.
Train: train stations are always in the centre of a city. That is most probably where people are staying which means easy access to train. You board the train at 6 pm, you reach your destination next morning at noon and have most probably cheched in at your accomodation aound 1-2 pm. Lets say in total 20 hours of travelling of which most you spent a, interracting with locals b, sleeping c, seen the landskape change d, had the opportunity to see the culture and society from inside.
Airplande: one hour to airport, 2-3 hours at airport, 2 hours flight, one hour security and lugage, one hour transport to city centre. A procedure that looks all the same whichever airport one goes to. In total 7-8 hours which is the whole day and no experience from the transportation to add to your mind or heart.
When one is so focused on the goal, the road to there is sometimes missed out on, walked but not seen, seen but not taken the time to feel.
Once in a while, some of these western travellers would say yes to my offer and I would introduce them to my favourite chai shop. We would order a chai, my treat, and then I could see how they were sitting, anticipating, waiting for something to happen. I would try to start a conversation about random things and sometimes they would let go of the anticipations and get involved. Sometimes they would get bored waiting for something to happen, thank me for the chai annd leave. In a couple occations they would actually open up, engage in the conversation with me, with the other guests, get carried away and forget they were in a hurry, start breathing and I could see how their bodies relaxed. How they started being present. They would enjoy the time spent and even thank me for taking them. They would be the ones I would see there again, not because of me taking them there but because of themselves. They would be the ones who would reduce the amount of yoga sessions and increese the number of chai and conversation sessions.
The chai shop is an outdoor thing. A shack. A something. Everything and everyone passes by this place. Cars, jeeps, cows, dogs monkeys, tourists, motorbikes, babas, travellers, locals, skooters, vendors selling groceries or street food and occationally a cat. I made that place my second home in a way. One can just sit there and observe, watch, see how life goes on just in front of me. The colours are spectacular, both the one worn by indians and by foreigners. It’s like a firework passing by. I was so taken by it all that I realised people around me came and went. I was like the constant remaining in the same chair. Conversations and the people I conversed with changed. I listened to storries on why and where, what brought them here, for how long and how we had changed. The change within.
Rishikesh is close enough to New Delhi for a weekend getaway and far enough to escape the polluted air and the stress in the modern city. People come to live the simple life. Either for hiking to the temple or the waterfall, perhaps take a bath in the Ganga River or just sit and have a chai. Watch life passing by. Simple things.
I love that about Indians, they do know how to enjoy the simple things in life.